Michael Mann's Public Enemies, which I saw last night with a tough late teen/early 20's crowd whose only mumbled reaction their limited mindset could churn out was "that was boring", is in actual fact arefreshingly original and exhilarating depiction of the 1930's era of Chicago gangster crimefare, a welcomed treat to a junk filled summer. A movie that left me in shock and awe during several of it's more dramatic and action set pieces, on the edge of my seat at least once and even left me questioning life's morality by the end. Not bad going for an early July blockbuster, but in truth, it's a modern American classic and a real Oscar contender that should never open in the scorching heat of the summer because despite the marquee attraction of it's cast, this is never going to be a mainstream crowd-pleaser. Sure it's got Hollywood hearthrob Johnny Depp once again playing the bad guy who refuses to conform to the rules of the world and naturally becomes the man we pin our hopes on (Sweeney Todd, Pirates of the Caribbean) and yeah it's got ladies favourite Christian Bale as a single-minded, aggressive detective who will use everything in his power to take down the gangster he is obsessed with (aka the ultra box office smash The Dark Knight) but although there's a lucidity to the action, Public Enemies is decidedly an artful picture first, a kind of un-apologetically cineastes' film like There Will Be Blood and not the kind of action picture Tony Scott would make, as maybe advertised. That's not a dig against Tony Scott, and from the sounds of things his version of The Taking of Pelham 123 is surprisingly good but Mann's working on a different level here, and Scott's audience may find this difficult to get accustomed too. A little paradigm for ya.... Bay... TRANSFORMERS (MacDonald's, actually no... Burger King) Scott... DEJA VU (A juicy steak washed down with a delicious vanilla shake) Mann... PUBLIC ENEMIES (a meal you have to be patient for.... you have to watch it sizzle and cook. You keep getting fed little bits and it's the best thing you've tasted in a long while, but then you have to be patient for the next bite). Depp plays Public Enemey No. 1 John Dillinger as a man who doesn't quite know why he robs banks, except that he enjoys doing it. The thrill of the chase perhaps, or as I think the movie suggests he thinks of himself as invincible, and that he is so far above the law for intelligence and speed, that he truly would never get caught. And if he did, he would just find a way out. He often did. He is depicted as a man who never thinks about tomorrow, instead he "wants everything now", a little like Cagney wanting to reach the "the top of the world ma" in White Heat but it's so much more fascinating to see Depp's delivery in a sincere and human way, rather than a rat-a-tat screen stealing presence. You get a feeling that each day he is making up for the ten years he spent in prison for a petty crime. Dillinger's every bit the bad man Cagney always played, but you try and watch this movie and not fall for the romanticism of the gangster. Is it possible to hate Depp in a movie and want him to lose? Just like Jesse James and Robin Hood before him, popular myth has turned Dillinger into a much loved anti-hero of a depressed state. Was he loved by the public as much as we think we was? Mann doesn't offer too much on the subject and wisely stays focused on telling the story but I imagine Dillinger brought a fear to Chicago that was terrifying to the public and you have to believe the average man on the street was behind him being captured. On his case was Detective Melvin Purvis, played with typical cold glee from Christian Bale, a lawman who as depicted from his first scene is the hunter chasing the dear. And although he misses with his first shot at Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum) and his first attempts at catching Dillinger, his persistence and desperate attempts will see him right eventually. The law always wins, criminals don't escape. He is the figurehead of J. Edgar Hoover's (Billy Crudrup) "first war on crime", a unit that would eventually form the modern day F.B.I. With easily his best movie since Heat, Mann gives us an old kind of period narrative (the cat and mouse game) but with a modern sense of cutting edge film making, a kind of "fly on the shoulders of the characters" style to represent life in the 1930's, instead of a movie made about the 1930's. Mann shoots it as if he were a ghost filming a documentary about the lives of these men. I don't think I've ever seen a movie in this genre get so close to the eyes of it's characters, every wrinkle, every imperfection, every nuck and crany that makes up the face is right there to see with the ultra clear High Definition cameras that Mann once again uses. After initially impressing us all with Collateral, then disappointingly letting style forgo substance with Miami Vice, Mann has finally got it right with the style he has been trying to perfect in the last three movies. It's much more smartly used here, especially during the shoot outs as our characters hide around a tree being pelted at with bullets and we are right there with them. You can smell their fear. You duck as you hear the shot. The movie has some of the more exciting shooting sequences I've ever witnessed on film, it's pure cinematic joy at 24 frames per second and I loved every second of it. Mann has offered up a new kind of breathtaking kind of visual film-making but one that is high art... and if there was any kind of proof needed that he is the absolute right man to take over Chris Nolan when he leaves the Batman franchise, this is surely it. The High-Def camera does something else to the genre too and that's move it beyond the period expectations of what you think you are going to see when paying for a 30's gangster biopic. The movie feels lived in, the lighting, the way it's shot, this is 1930's, how 1930's really was. There is no time for nostalgia here and remarkably the modernity that Mann brings to the period actually in some ways, makes it more period authentic. In 2009, I believe cinema still remains the most powerful art form human's have at their disposable. Sure, the death of iconic pop figures like Michael Jackson last week go beyond the fame of any film star but men like Jackson are few and far between, and although music is a potent thing, it's not quite as life changing as films are to you. Not in the long run. Your music tastes come and go, and they will affect you for a while. But nothing will hit your self conscious in the same way films will. After all, where else would you get your first visual image of what true love is, or what sex is, or how to rob a bank, who gangsters are, what death is and how a bullet affects your body. I think I've learnt nearly everything I know about life from my years growing up watching movies. Even the fate of Dillinger I first heard in High Fidelity. If you are aware of the John Dilligner story, then I'm not going to spoil the already told tale for you but if you want to stay pure then stop reading, for at least the next two paragraphs... The final reel, which hasn't quite left me yet from my first viewing has Dilligner, sitting reflectively watching the Clark Gable gangster picture Manhattan Melodrama and in all respects it's a movie about him. Gable plays a fictional Dillinger-esque character, the wise cracking gangster, the leadership, the bad guy with morals and his performance delights Dilinger, but for the first time in the many re-tellings of this story, Mann questions what Dillinger must have been thinking at that precise moment. Up until then, Dillinger had only ever thought about the next day, the next job, the next bank he was going to rob and how he was going to rub it in the faces of authority. But seeing Gable on screen uttering the last words to his men, seeing a woman beauty projected on screen quite like Myrna Loy who has a striking resemblance to Dillinger's girlfriend Billie Frechette (played by Marion Cotillard), he begins to reflect on his own situation through the eyes of those on screen. In a way, this might just be Mann's most powerful cinematic moment he has yet shot. Mann has never been a Tarantino of film. He has always preferred to tell his own stories, and leave cinema's past behind. And in his case thank God, because we have been treated with the likes of Heat and the under-rated Thief because of it, I barely think movie history has ever been mentioned in any one of his films but it is here, in glorious fascination with a deeper theme. Is Mann letting us into his psyche. Is he finally admitting that movies have shaped his life, cinema's past has formed him as much as it has everyone else? It's a fascination look into Mann's personal I highly recommend you checking out Public Enemies. I know this hasn't been a very well structured review of sorts... Mike wrote a perfectly fine one earlier, this was just what was playing around in my head what I walked out of the theatre, thankful I didn't have Melvin Purvis lighting a cigar next to me.